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A History of Rookies on the World Team

 Photos: Tony Rotundo

Photos: Tony Rotundo

Rookie world team members always have an awesome sense of unfamiliarity about them. We get to dream big dreams and cheer on the new blood. And much to our delight, it happens every year, a rookie comes out and medals at the World Championships or Olympic Games. Last season was J'Den Cox and Logan Stieber, two years ago Kyle Snyder and James Green. If history is to be believed, it's not just possible, it's very probable. Check out the info below on the rookies for every decade since 1960.

 The 1960's saw the first world teams for the USA.

The 1960's saw the first world teams for the USA.

Terry McCann, Shelby Wilson, and Doug Blubaugh became the first rookie medalists in the "modern era"  for USA Wrestling at the 1960 Olympic Games held in Rome, Italy. Unfortunately for the United States, they would win 3 of the 6 rookie medals of the decade that year. The U.S. sent their first world team to the World Championships in 1961 but would not gain a freestyle medal of any sort until the next season where rookie James Ferguson and 3 time team member, Daniel Brand would both win bronze.  The final two rookie medals came more than 8 years later at the 1969 World Championships, where Fred Fozzard would win gold, followed by Henk Schenk's bronze. Schenk and Fozzard would both make another team, but would fail to medal. Interestingly enough the United States Men's Freestyle Team only won 19 total medals in the 1960's, six of them coming from rookie performances, including four golds, that's a soild 32%.

Rookie Medals

1960: Terry McCann (Gold), Shelby Wilson (Gold), and Dough Blubaugh (Gold)

1962: James Ferguson (Bronze)

1969: Fred Fozzard (Gold) and Henk Schenk (Bronze)

 

 

 The 1970's ushered in the begining of a new era for USA Wrestling.

The 1970's ushered in the begining of a new era for USA Wrestling.

The U.S. saw an increase of medal output from the time the 70's kicked off.  Six freestyle medals would be won in 1970 with one rookie, Bill Harlow, taking silver. The 1970's saw 10 rookies medal at the World Championships or Olympic Games. Legends like Dan Gable and Lee Kemp made their mark as rookies before winning at least one more gold on their journey. The 1970's also saw an increase in percent of rookies metaled (22%) and percent of medals won by rookies (29%). More notable rookies from this decade are Russ Hellickson (Bronze 1971), Chris Taylor (Bronze 1972), Lloyd Keaser (Gold 1973), and Ben Peterson (Gold 1972).

Rookie Medals

1970 Bill Harlow (Silver)

1971 Dan Gable (Gold) and Russ Hellickson (Bronze)

1972 Ben Peterson (Gold) and Chris Taylor (Bronze)

1973 Lloyd Keaser (Gold)

1977 Jack Reinwand (Bronze

1978 Lee Kemp (Gold)

1979 Bobby Weaver (Silver) and Andre Metzger (Bronze)

 The 1980's is considered by many to be the golden age of freestyle wrestling in the United States.

The 1980's is considered by many to be the golden age of freestyle wrestling in the United States.

The 1980's started out on the wrong foot in wrestling. The U.S. protested the Olympics being in Soviet Moscow, so they didn't send a team that summer. The Soviet Union would return the favor for the Los Angeles games in 1984. In the eighties, the total number of rookies that wrestled for the freestyle team dropped by 16 spots, but medals won by rookies increased by one. A nice 35% of our rookie freestyle team members won medals on their first try. And this is the only decade that at least one rookie from the U.S. won a medal at every World Championship or Olympic Games. Huge names got their careers off on the right foot during this decade, including Dave Schultz, John Smith, Kenny Monday, and Melvin Douglas. More medals were won by the United States in freestyle during this decade than any other, 52 in total with rookies winning 11 of them. 

Rookie Medals

1981: Greg Gibson (Silver)

1982: Dave Schultz (Bronze)

1983: Lee Roy Smith (Silver)

1984: Lou Banach (Gold)

1985: Kevin Darkus (Silver) and Bill Scherr (Gold)

1986: Jim Scherr (Bronze) and Joe McFarland (Silver)

1987: John Smith (Gold)

1988: Kenny Monday (Gold)

1989: Melvin Douglas (Silver)

 The 1990's saw the Men's Freestyle Team win two World Team Championships in 1993 and 1995.

The 1990's saw the Men's Freestyle Team win two World Team Championships in 1993 and 1995.

For the second straight decade, the 1990's would see fewer rookies wrestle at the world championships. Ten rookies would win medals during USA Wrestling's silver age, including 3 gold's during the two team championship seasons. Wrestlers like Terry and Tom Brands, Kevin Jackson, and Stephen Neal would have breakout performances. The percent of medals won by rookies went up from 20% to 24% from the 1980's as the total amount of medals won by the United States went down from 52 to 43. The United States also had 6 rookie World Champions, more than any other decade. 

Rookie Medals

1990: Royce Alger (Silver) and Kirk Trost (Bronze)

1991: Kevin Jackson (Gold) and Mark Coleman (Silver)

1993: Terry Brands (Gold) and Tom Brands (Gold)

1995: Kurt Angle (Gold)

1997: Cary Kolat (Silver)

1998: Sammie Henson (Gold)

1999: Stephen Neal (Gold)

 Dispite brilliant performances from individuals, medal output continued to decline in the 2000's.

Dispite brilliant performances from individuals, medal output continued to decline in the 2000's.

Three straight decades, three straight declining numbers in medal output by rookies and veterans alike. The 2000's would see a drop from 10 to 8 rookie medals, including only one World or Olympic champion. The first decade of the new millennium would see outstanding first time performance from Brandon Slay, but unfortunately he would not return to world championships again. With the decrease in total medals won by the United States, we would see the total percentage of hardware won by rookies increase from 24% to a whopping 38%, higher than any other decade. The 2009 world team featured for the first time in USA Wrestling history, a team made up of all rookies. Tervel Dlagnev and Jake Herbert would both reach the podium winning bronze and silver respectively, both wrestlers would go on to represent the USA at the 2012 Olympic Games. 

Rookie Medals

2000: Brandon Slay (Gold)

2001: Brandon Eggum (Silver)

2003: Cael Sanderson (Silver)

2005: Tolly Thompson (Bronze)

2006: Mike Zadick (Silver) and Donny Pritzlaff (Bronze)

2009:  Jake Herbert (Silver) and Tervel Dlagnev (Bronze)

 This decade is on track to be the best decade for rookies in USA history.

This decade is on track to be the best decade for rookies in USA history.

Jordan Burroughs, James Green, Kyle Snyder, Logan Stieber, and J'Den Cox are a who's who of superstars in our country right now and they've  all won medals at their first World or Olympic tournament. The United States this decade currently sits at 14 medals won, with 6 of them won by rookies, that's 43%. If the U.S. rookies can continue to keep pace, this could be the most fruitful decade for first timers in the modern era. One thing that is on our rookie's side currently is the age group experience. Thomas Gilman won a junior world bronze back in 2014 and could be very competitive at 57 kilos right away. A wrestler that has no lack of tenacity himself is Zain Retherford. The Zain train rolled to a cadet world title back in 2012, and took out near medalist, and former teammate Frank Molinaro at the World Team Trials. Rookie 125 kilo wrestler Nick Gwiazdowski doesn't have the age level medal like the other two, but does have experience on the senior level against top level completion. Gwiz showed he could wrestle with the best big boys at the Club World Cup, and right now any solid heavyweight is a medal threat. 

Rookie Medals

2011: Jordan Burroughs (Gold)

2012: Coleman Scott (Bronze)

2015: James Green (Bronze) and Kyle Snyder (Gold)

2016: J'Den Cox (Bronze) and Logan Stieber (Gold)

 

Our three rookies along with the rest of Team USA will look to add more medals to the history books August 21st through the 26th in Paris, France.